Making a DIY Band Video part 2

Part 2 – Lighting

After learning about your camera, perhaps the next most important part to understand when shooting your own video is lighting. If at all possible I’d advise lots of practice with light placement, finding out about different types of lighting available etc. Several tutorials online talked about three main essential ingredients, which are front, side and back lighting.

My preference when it came to hiring lights was 3 tungsten 2kw blondes with a trace frame on a heavy duty stand for softer backlighting. This was perfect for strongly lit bright scenes, where the main object was to see everything clearly. For more moody stuff, like this video by Portico Quartet, point a few 100 – 150w dedos at the floor in strategic places, shine a few protofoto 1 x 4 strips directly on the band for more even lighting and place a few strategic spots way in the background (the space in this video is actually larger than it seems) for texture. Next time I’d like to experiment with some spots with adjustable brightness.

Unfortunately I made the mistake of not allowing time to play around with lighting on the day of the shoot, so the results weren’t all I might have wanted. My advice would be to allow 1 – 2 hours before any shoot to get to know the room and light it how you want. Don’t forget to watch LOTS of band videos online and find the ones with a look that appeals to you.

Follow this link to read part 3

Shooting your first DIY Band Video part 1

alexis-live-e1433951605290Shooting your first band video.

I recently shot my own band for the first time taking on various roles myself. Through the process I learned a great many crucial lessons, which I thought might make helpful reading for anyone thinking of going down the same path. All my life I’ve been on the band’s side of the camera lens, in TV and film studios and on stages around the world. Having previously shot another of my bands with a Director Of Photography (DP), I felt that I’d managed to get a little bit inside his head and gained a perspective from that side of the lens. This is the story of that process.

Band-VideoPart 1 – know your camera

I bought a brand new Canon DSLR camera because, after doing quite a bit of research, it seemed the best way to get great picture quality within a relatively small budget. One mistake I made was to start shooting before I knew the camera, which meant there were basic problems such as auto-focus, making the main subject go out of focus all the time. By the second shoot we were getting better results, as I’d found the settings to stop this happening. A few online tutorials advise to switch ALL automatic functions off on the DSLR before shooting video footage and I found this to very helpful advice.

In terms of light, I’ve never previously understood the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and all that’s entailed with light aspects of camera work, so this put me at a huge disadvantage when going into a live filming scenario. I’m now embarked on a journey to better understand these aspects in much better detail and highly recommend getting this down before committing to a band shoot. This in conjunction with getting a proper working knowledge of lighting your space is one of the most important elements of shooting a video.

Another aspect that developed as we got to know our camera was the use of lenses. I bought an F1 portrait lens at the same time as the camera, as I’d seen the kind of shots possible with this and wanted to get that effect. As things progressed, we added a wide angle lens and a couple of bigger lenses (75 – 200 and a 75 – 300) capable of a greater zooming capacity and they had a depth of field that made band stills and video shoots look really professional. If you’re unable to afford these, it might be worth asking around friends and family to see if anyone has lenses compatible with your camera, otherwise, there are some suppliers to the film industry who rent out lenses.

Of course with great big heavy lenses comes the problem of supporting them. The cheap tripod that we bought with the original camera could no longer support it with the huge lenses fitted, so a more heavy duty tripod was required. We bought a monopod too, which is intended for fast camera work when there no time or space to use a conventional tripod, but after a while realised that this is more appropriate for taking stills and requires considerable skill and experience to use effectively in a video-shooting scenario.

Behind The Producer part 2

How important is being a multi-instrumentalist to your process?

“Let me start by saying that there is NOTHING like being in a room full of the right people who excel at what they do and who bounce ideas off each other. This is how I learned my trade, by playing in studios and on stages with the world’s best and it’s still my ideal method of working. Unfortunately, recording budgets don’t always allow for such a luxury these days, which is why more and more people are coming to me!”

“But to answer the question, I find it absolutely indispensable for the immense variety of work I do. Being able to come from many different perspectives gives me a HUGE advantage in terms of putting arrangements together. Creatively it’s a awesome too, because different personalities come out depending on what instrument I’m playing (quick, get the straight-jacket LOL!). Lastly, it gives me a vast palette of styles to draw from, which is being explored more deeply the further I get into music for TV and films. Making music for pictures is one of the rare opportunities a composer might get to move seamlessly between the styles of Deadmau5 and Arvo Pärt, for example, if he or she has the necessary chops!”

“And there’s a more practical side. There comes a stage in most sessions where brain-drain can set in and even the best instrumentalists can get physical or mental fatigue (or both) on any one instrument. When this happens, the ideas become weak, which can mean death to a writing or recording session where maximum creativity and peak performance are needed. Switching instruments at times like these can be a life-saver and keep me excited about the music, as well as help to get the performances I need. Of course it’s also essential to know when to take a break!”

“For orchestral writing in the project studio, when programmed parts are a dominant feature, I find that playing in some live violin and viola gives a certain authenticity to the parts. But most often ONLY a real string section can give the performances I’m hearing and however good a sample library is, good performances can only be expressed by real human beings. It’s also one of life’s greatest thrills to hear your music played by a real live orchestra!”


“Fancy a movie”? “Hmmmmm, who’s the projectionist?”


A DJ phones his DJ friend up. “Fancy seeing a movie?” “Hmmmmm not sure, who’s the projectionist?”

This favourite joke of mine has an underlying message. We laugh at the guy who regards the projectionist as more important than the movie, being more focused on the movie’s delivery mechanism than on the acting, cinematography, photography or soundtrack – in other words, the ART contained within the piece. While this may sound absurd, this is actually the world we now live in! Believe it or not, people will often pay a lot of money to see someone putting on a recording on their favourite music rather than pay to see a live performance by the artist who originally wrote and performed it. Which is, of course, is the whole basis of the joke.

Online streaming is the latest delivery mechanism under scrutiny. The debate has been slowly gaining momentum amongst artists about companies like Spotify, Pandora, You Tube etc. This Finish artist has calculated  his income per play as 0.002 cents from Spotify and a recent article by David Byrne (see below) made some very frightening calculations about the future of income for artists if this latest form of music delivery is to become mainstream.

Here are some well informed and hard hitting articles on the subject:

Spotiwhy? a look at sustainability for content creators in light of the streaming model.

Defining and demanding a musician’s fair shake in the internet age

My song got played on Pandora 1 million times and all I got was $16:89, less than what I make from a single t-shirt sale

The internet will suck all creative content out of the world David Byrne’s excellent article in the Guardian

How much do artists earn online?

So how does anyone at Google, Spotify et al think this is going to play out? Lack of a fair balance between effort expended and income can only have one conclusion – that the most talented artists will go elsewhere to pay their living costs and the world will be deprived of the inspiration and joy brought to us by those artists. The only people who participate willingly in this ‘give-away’ culture are amateurs and musicians who have not received public attention because they are not ready. You have only to spend 10 minutes on You Tube etc to see how much low-grade content is clogging up the internet.

The only logical conclusion I can see is that content pedlars will collapse once there is no content of worth available. With lawmakers generally turning a deaf ear to content creators’ voices, the only way to fix this is through legislation, but of course, governments are only interested in the issues that are raised by the wealthiest lobbyists – in this case, Google, Spotify and many others. Many songwriters talk about the systematic rape of the world around us for short-term gain. Well I guess we finally hit a nerve, because now it’s us!

If you agree with this article and are concerned about its implications, please share it and help to spread awareness.

DIY Recording: Q and A

For more than 20 years now, colleagues & clients from all sides of the industry have been asking my advice with anything from recording, producing and mastering an entire project, to improving the sound of one aspect of their production, or simply being a second set of ears. I thought it might be worth sharing a recent chat in the form of a Q and A session:

Q Could you give me your opinion about RME or Apogee converters if you have had any experience with them and also your opinion about recording at higher sample rates?

GH I’ve heard them both in other studios, but there are so many variables as you know, that it’s hard to tell exactly how many individual elements combine to make the sound good. In terms of sample rates, if it’s REALLY exposed like solo sax or something, it might be worth taking the trouble to capture every nuance, but for every day general stuff  44100/24 bit is sufficient. If you’re doing very simple electronic production like dance music or pop and use ‘bit crusher‘ a lot, then anything more than 44100/16 bit would be a completely wasted exercise! Of course, if you’re going for HD mastering, you’ll need to use higher sample rates from the start of the project

Q I wanted to record sax at 192 and also piano to get the real fat. If it all gets mixed down to 44.1 is there any point of recording at these higher sample rates anyway though ?

GH Generally I would say no, but if I care more than usual about the quality of a recording, I will record at higher rates.

Q Do you use in-the-box plugins such as Waves or do you prefer outboard gear? Is the plugins thing like emulating an SSL 4000 desks analogue character just commercial hype, or are they getting closer to narrowing the disparity between ITB and outboard in your opinion?

GH I think it’s VERY close now, but personally I use a hybrid. I use in-the-box plugins all the way until the stereo bus, then feed out into my SSL mix compressor. I can hear way more clarity, definition, stereo width and even some tonal differences. Then I patch the SSL back into the DAW to print.

For ‘analogue character’ there are definitely some very good ITB plugins on the market. Personal favourites include the UAD Studer & Ampex plugins, the Waves NLS channel/bus and also the REDD emulations and the Soundtoys Decapitator.

Q Tony Maserati was on Dave Pensado‘s channel and said someone made him up a gold wired mike cable ..said the difference especially on the top end was like night and day. Says it radically transforms the sound. One of my colleagues is also obsessed with the power supply aspects.

GH Yeah I love those guys. My go to mastering guy is Andy Jackson – he’s into expensive cabling and also swears by it. He uses quite a bit of Tim de Paravacini’s EAR gear too. I’d lay odds that he uses mains filters in his mastering suite, but if not, he DEFINITELY uses them at Dave Gilmour’s studio, which is where he works. I agree with a lot of these guys when they say, it’s not any ONE step that we take that greatly improves our sound, it’s a series of very small incremental steps culminating in a vastly improved end point. The same as mixing or mastering I guess! 😉


Bigger, Deeper, Wider – The Secret Of Mixing ‘In The Box’

VU MeterThis is an extremely short version of a MASSIVE thread on one of my favourite sites, Gearslutz. The original post is by Skip Burrows and soon evolves into an in depth discussion with Paul Frindle – ex SSL designer & general digital audio boffin. Since reading this thread and putting its various ideas into practice, the sound of my mixes has noticeably improved, so I thought it might be worth sharing with anyone who’s also looking to improve their sound. Of course, if you’re looking for the best results, then you’ll need to hire ME! 🙂

If you’ve been recording as long as I have (nope, you’ll have to guess!), you’ll have learned that the best way of recording onto tape with the best signal to noise ratio was by recording as hot as possible (as close to 0VU as possible). Even the early days of digital recording in 16 bit favoured this methodology, as the argument was that the hotter you recorded, the more of the original quality of the signal would be preserved in the conversion.

Nowadays, that’s all changed with 24 bit recording at 96 and 192khz with the increased dynamic range, plus DAWs are not calibrated the same way as most mixing desks. Long and short, recording at much lower levels is more ideal in the current scheme of things and is one step of many that will add clarity and definition to your mixes. On top of this, the 3rd party plug-ins we all love to use don’t operate at their best with a hot signal, most manufacturers assume that the track won’t be slamming the VUs as it passes through, so making sure that your signal goes in clean will get the best sound out of the plug-in.

One way that engineers are working this with hot audio tracks sent to them for mixing is to insert a trim plug-in first in the chain with a dB cut. There are divided opinions on how much gain to trim, but the thread mentions anywhere from -8 to -20dB. Quite a difference huh! Well, as with everything, I just used my ears and worked out over time what works best for me and eventually opted for anything from -8 to -12dB cuts, which often get made on the input stage of the UAD plug-ins. You’ll make up some gain anyway as tracks are processed and more plug-ins are added, but bottom line, careful gain-staging from start to finish is going to make an enormous difference to the overall sound and will make your mixes less squashed and narrow sounding.

“But what if I WANT it to sound distorted?” I hear someone ask. Good question. Distortion was originally obtained in the analog world by pushing 0dB, however, digital distortion over 0db is really nasty & crunchy – not a pleasant sound at all, what’s more it can adversely affect the CD pressing or even glitch on air, so is to be avoided at all costs**. The pleasing ‘analog’ distortion we’ve all come to know and love is more accurately referred to as ‘harmonic distortion’, being that it IS the adding of harmonic frequencies to the original signal. This is the domain of a whole new generation of harmonic distortion and saturation plug-ins, such as the Soundtoys Decapitator, iZotope Trash, UAD Studer a800, Waves NLS etc. This, then is how to add acceptable distortion (however nasty and trashy you want it) in the context of a carefully gain-staged mix.

Lastly, I tend to create groups, in the same way I used to on my mixing desk, so a drum bus, vocals, guitars, keys and maybe bass separately, depending on the style, complexity of my sound set etc. Having stereo subsections of my instruments gives me more flexibility on the final stage and let’s me pull things down a little if they get too hot. Alternatively if everything needs pushing a little to get the mix pumping, it’s still a much easier way to do it than going through hundreds of tracks adjusting them.

If you’ve enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please click on the Facebook links and like our page. Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add or ask, it’s always great to hear from people with fresh ideas.

Don’t forget to check out the original post if you’re hungry for more technical info.

Thanks for reading!

** Any mastering engineer worth her salt will tell you there’s a further consideration when converting to mp3, as anything mastered too close to 0VU can take it over the top during the conversion process. This is why most mastering houses will set the output of their brick wall limiters anything from -0.1 to -0.3dB.

How To Choose A Music Producer: Five Essential Points.

Let’s face it, everyone and their dog calls themselves a music producer these days. So how do we sort out the men from the boys?

Perhaps you’ve been pointed by someone you already know towards a producer they know or know of. How do you decide if this producer is the right one for your project? Here are some pointers to help you in your decision.

1) Discography. Many record producers approach me on a daily basis to work with the singer and recording artist I represent. My first port of call is to look up their discography, because I want to know that this producer is selling records and having their work played in the commercial world, for instance on TV or feature films and (if appropriate) in clubs. If they don’t have a good body of work or have something recent that impresses either myself or my artist, a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ will result.

2) Listen! Is the potential producer of your music putting out work that’s compatible with the world around you? Many people in our business rest on the laurels of work they did maybe 10 or 20 years ago, so listen to her/his work next to that of your favourite artists and judge for yourself.

3) Research. If at all possible ask around amongst colleagues in the business. I’ve avoided some sticky situations down the line with some very prominent producers because I took the time to research them and didn’t like the reports from people they had previously worked with.

4) Meet them! If you’re going ‘old school’ & are going to be in the studio with a producer for a period of time, it’s really important to have a meeting and get a flavour of what that person will be like to work with. There are plenty of nightmare stories, even about some famous albums, where the band/artist had a terrible time with the producer picked by the record label. The world we now live in offers far more choices than previously, so there’s never any need to work with someone who ‘doesn’t fit’. Tell-tale signs that you may be barking up the wrong tree include the way a producer speaks to their assistant, or how they are on the phone with a friend or their partner.

If you’re planning a remote (via internet) session with your material, it could be a good idea to have a skype session or similar with your potential working partner. Emails can sort out a lot of the fine details, but ultimately it helps to eyeball the human being who you’re trusting to interpret your ideas.

5) Instinct. Yes, do your research, meet the producer, if budget is a consideration then weigh up the pros and cons and make sure you know your own mind when making decisions about production styles and values. At the end of the day, trust your instinct, because that’s the only way you’ll produce your best work.

Mort Shuman – The Songwriter’s Songwriter

Mort_Shuman-69133-E800Mort Shuman was one of those larger-than-life characters that could light up a room as soon as he walked into it. Plagued by poor health during his last few years, he was taken from us way too soon! Mort’s pet name for me was ‘Groton’ and we worked closely together during the preparation of his last album A Distant Drum.

For those unfamiliar with him, Mort was one of the music industry’s legends – he and Doc Pomus wrote 25 songs for Elvis (Viva Las Vegas, Mess Of Blues, Teddy Bear etc) and many other absolute classics, including ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, ‘Teenager In Love’ and ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’. The latter I remember him elaborating in quite some depth about how it all came together – what trends everybody was reaching for at the time musically (the Bossa, which is referred to in the triangle part) and particularly what his process was in the writing of the lyrics.

Mort came from a tradition of writers who were trying for clever subtlety in their writing, rather than how graphically they could describe shagging people in dingy underground bars, so it was with a justified sense of pride that Mort talked about the lines he wrote and his thought processes behind them. I remember him doing this with another song, The World Is Waiting For Love, that we worked on together in London. We mocked up a demo one day & the next morning he arrived in fine spirits, having walked on a sunny day to Harley Street (our studio) through Hyde Park. He talked in depth about the lyrical & melodic changes he had made & his reasons for them, which was a great insight into the master’s work.

Mort’s spirit was like a child when he talked about his craft. You could see that he was totally in love with his job and he had been lucky enough to benefit enormously from it, owning beautiful homes in London, Paris and New York (although it wouldn’t surprise me to find out there were more) . His enthusiasm was infectious and created a great atmosphere for the work in hand. He could be also a very generous man, buying a young studio engineer like myself lunch or dinner when working late.

Perhaps Mort’s most famous legacy is for translating the works of Jacques Brel, for which he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. At the time of the award he was the only non-Frenchman to have received it. From this point on he became a superstar in France and lived there for a good part of his life, releasing quite a few albums, as well as marrying and raising a family.

Thanks for all the valuable stuff you passed down Mort, we’ll never forget you!

Trashmonk – Mona Lisa Overdrive

This is an album that from a short distance I watched evolve over a period of two or three years, picking up many valuable ideas along the way and even inheriting the Akai recorder it was started on.

Originally named ‘Downloaded’ (more from the perspective of the song ‘Brownstone Symphony’ than any prediction of developing technology at the time), I remember my good friend producer Simon Tyrell meticulously crafting Mona Lisa Overdrive with Nick – recorded just up the road from my studio, this album was waaaaaaay ahead of its time in terms of its philosophy and the way it was recorded. Bands like Frou Frou (producer Guy Sigsworth) and William Orbit quickly picked up the baton and sold the industry on the new filtered/distorted/generally f***ed up sound that marked our final escape from the predominantly clinical and sonically average sound of the 80s & 90s.

Mostly featuring Nick himself on voice and instruments, he used a small handful of musically and philosophically aligned people to supplement the overall sound and set of performances – Jon Carin (who, incidentally, clinched the decision to buy my first Kurzweil) and Ben Goldsmith on violin, (I can only remember these two – the album will have full credits, though sadly there’s no Wikipedia entry for it). According to Simon, the recording chain included an EQ and compressor from Tim Paravacini’s EAR (Esoteric Audio Research) company and there was never a Sansamp or Sherman Filter Bank very far away. Great use was made of unusual and boutique gear, including a fine collection of guitars and other stringed instruments, along with an electronic keyboard tuned to an arabic tuning, bought from a bazar somewhere along Nick’s travels.

Creation’s Alan McGee quickly jumped on the album & threw himself headlong into its development, block booking Dave Gilmour’s Astoria, where it was knocked into shape and George Schilling did a magnificent job of the final mixes. just after it was delivered, Creation went bust! I’m not entirely sure the two facts are disconnected LOL!

anyway, enough waffling, here’s one of my favourite tracks….


Trashmonk – Polygamy